Maverick Citizen


Land reform can only happen by targeting private property ownership, says Tembeka Ngcukaitobi

Land reform can only happen by targeting private property ownership, says Tembeka Ngcukaitobi
Land activist Tembeka Ngcukaitobi says the government should abandon its land restitution policy and focus on land redistribution. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Thulani Mbele)

Government should abandon the policy of land restitution because it is not economically or politically feasible, and rather go back to redistribution.

The concept of private property came about as a result of colonial efforts to disenfranchise African people, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi told people gathered at The Forge’s talks on land in South Africa, scheduled to run throughout the month. 

Ngcukaitobi explained that in the African context, and according to native land law, land had always “belonged to either the community, the village or to the family… never to the individual”.

He said that the fact that the current government is enforcing individual private property rights — which were used to disenfranchise natives when the British declared that the land belonged to the Crown (Queen of England) — meant that South Africa’s current land policy is built on an incorrect premise. 

Ngcukaitobi traced the history of the law of private land ownership to when it started to take shape with the Land Commission of 1846, which made recommendations in favour of private land ownership over tribal ownership. 

A later commission in 1883 declared that land belonged to tribal chiefs. It rejected private land ownership by natives and decided that the land would be owned by the Crown and that trusteeship would be in the hands of the government.

Asked by an audience member what impact the land issue has had on him in his personal capacity, Ngcukaitobi responded that his family in the Eastern Cape had been victims of forced removals in 1947 after his paternal great grandfather had bought the land in 1897. 

He recalled how, when growing up, every second black boy had to go and work on white farms, something he knew he had to escape because of the cruel conditions under which black people worked. 

Ngcukaitobi said that while he had accepted what happened to his family in the past, “the sense of grievance” he grew up with drew him to land issues and the possibility that one’s life “could have turned out differently”. 

“It enables me to channel my grandfather’s grievances,” said Ngcukaitobi.

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According to Ngcukaitobi, private ownership is inconsistent with how land reform should be handled. 

“Black people need more land. The problem is that there is too little land available… you have to disrupt the levels of concentration,” he said, adding that too much land was concentrated in the hands of white people. 

He said a way to resolve this was to “focus on privately owned land… the idea that land must come from the state is an unworkable idea because there are only 18 million hectares that are under the control of the state”, and that only 2% of it can be used for human settlement — the rest being taken up by forests, rivers, state infrastructure and so on. 

This, he said, was in comparison to South Africa having been measured in 1912 as being 121 million hectares in size.

Ngcukaitobi lamented how land redistribution was abandoned in favour of land restitution, which he said was a flawed concept that came about as a result of the influence of World Bank economists. 

He said this was problematic in terms of clear cut-off dates of how far back claims could be made, and that it did not address the immediate needs of people because land was mostly up for claim in rural areas, while more people now lived in urban areas.

It was his opinion that the government should abandon the policy of land restitution because it was not economically or politically feasible, and rather go back to redistribution.

“The ANC lacks political will to do the right thing. It always works against the interests of the poor to work outside of the law.

“We have a so-called thriving property market alongside land reform… however, it is impossible [for black people] to access because what you end up doing is increasing your indebtedness to financial institutions. So the mortgage transaction is actually fictitious in the same way that ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ is.”

Ngcukaitobi told the audience that the consultative process on Section 25 of the Constitution, which was undertaken by the government in 2018, was “a diversion” and  “a complete waste of time.” DM/MC


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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    There is a platitude “don’t give a man a fish, teach him to catch his own” and it is a life truth.

    I really do understand your frustration Tembeka, however trying to take “legal shortcuts to force land redistribution” will be “two wrongs”, will not possibly be fairly implemented, and will certainly destroy the South African economy – to the detriment of everyone, yourself and your family included.

    What is necessary is slower, but it is the only way and it needs to occur in this order, starting now:
    1. Stop the ANC stealing money.
    2. Put as much of the newly available money as humanly possible into education for all.
    3. Uplift people academically (consequently uplifting the South African economy at the same time)

    This will even the playing fields for everyone, allowing people of all races to purchase what they want or need, land and otherwise.

  • Ian Cox says:

    Our constitution invites us to embrace a future united in our diversity, but Ngcukaitobi will have us eschew that in favour of a monoculture where land supposedly vests in the community. I say supposedly because this really means that land and its use vests in the politically powerful. One is a system that promotes economic growth and wealth creation. The other is a system that mires people in poverty by reducing them to occupiers ever dependant on and subservient to the whims of the politically powerful. I fear that Ngcukaitobi is guilty of the same exceptionalism that he accuses his so-called colonial occupiers of. The implementation of his ambitions is and will continue to impoverish this country in every way.

  • Brandon VE says:

    Had this guy travelled around SA? There is SO much land in the Northern Cape. Noone wants to live there.
    He’s talking about ‘land’ but not saying where.
    Now when he mentions his family being removed (because they didn’t own the land), the same would happen 200 years ago when another tribe comes along and takes their land forcibly.
    With ownership (a colonial concept) you now have legal recourse and rights to the land.

    • John Strydom says:

      Sharp point!

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Irrespective of the sense of the article, – as pretty much usual the thick skin of the entitled commentators here is astounding.

      The reality is that everyone SHOULD have an equal shot at land ownership.

      The discussion here should be contributing insights into HOW best to improve the lives of the impoverished, rather than perpetuating hatred and division.

      …but compassion and constructive engagement with other perspectives sadly remains MIA.

      • Karl Sittlinger says:

        It’s a bit hard to start a constructive debate with the base premise to destroy everything many have worked hard for and shifting the entire blame and responsibility on them in the process. The assumption that all commentators here are entitled, rather than trying to do what’s best for their family, their future and their community is misguided and not what I am seeing in my community or on the ground.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          The apartheid government suppressed an entire population completely, in every way possible. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

          …are you truly surprised at where we are today? Do you think think you have sole entitlement to be aggrieved? Broaden your perspective and look at all sides – not just the one that suits your narrative.

          The simple truth is that only working together will this country be saved. Hatred will destroy everything for everyone – it always does.

          • Karl Sittlinger says:

            “Do you think think you have sole entitlement to be aggrieved?” Absolutely not, nor did I ever imply that.
            What I did say was that it is hard to have a constructive debate if you assign all blame to one party when clearly that is not the case. It’s been proven by multiple reports that the main hurdle to land reform is the ANC, their policies and their corruption.
            As for that hatred has no place or discussion in this country, that we can agree on.

  • Martin Neethling says:

    Ngcukaitobi’s views are contrary to the protection of private ownership principle enshrined in our Constitution, and on any reading of the economic consequences of following his lead, would be devastating to what is left of the SA economy. What is really troubling though is that Zukiswa Pikoli fails to mention that our ‘activist’ is an acting judge at the Land Claims Court. Any possible consideration of impartiality should your matter come before him would be hard to argue. And of course, as is routine now, neither the good advocate or our journalist mention the swathes of SA land held in Trust and controlled by Traditional Leaders. This feudal land ownership model, that persists in SA, is the best example of what we can expect in the absence of private ownership. How does this take SA forward is the real question.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    Touching. Those wishing for land and property redistributed to them may not know that they will also inherit property taxes, maintenance cost, lack of servive delivery cost, salaries of domestic, workers, security cost, additional cost of refuse removal, and extended family making your home theirs. Beware what you wish for.

  • James Stephen Stephen says:

    The African system of communal land ownership will lead to economic ruin for all. Does Advocate Ngcukaitobi not realise this? Does he not realise the economic and uplifting advantages that “ fictitious mortgages” offer the nation? Fictitious in what sense? Does he not realise that private property rights underpin the economy?

    What he fails to mention is that communal landownership was the only recourse for people who had no means of delimiting land boundaries due to illiteracy. This in turn robbed people of the means to improve their lives through individual land ownership which was a foreign concept to them.

    Of course the events that unfolded in the colonial era were extremely unjust to Africans. Nobody disputes this in more enlightened times. Nobody disputes the need for more inclusive ownership of land, not just access to land. Access to land does not guarantee prosperity in the hands of occupiers. The pre-colonial era in Africa proves that. People did not lead secure, prospering lives: rather the opposite. Communal access to land is the route to a dysfunctional rural economy such as we see in all the tribal-owned lands held in trust by chiefs. Who are themselves the products of an archaic society.

    So Advocate Ngcukaitobi recommends the disruption of private ownership of land, but which will have exactly the same effect on this nation’s economy as the same process did in Zimbabwe. Really?

    Reversion to an archaic system of land tenure because it derives from African tradition is short sighted, nonsensical, and dangerous to a modern society. Yet he continues to peddle this approach in future. Really?

  • Lorinda Winter says:

    Is this the ‘clever’ advocate who found Graeme Smith guilty of ‘supposed’ racism? Just asking.

  • David Bristow says:

    So what are we talking about here, vis-a-vie “an African context” – the old feudal system of chiefs (lords), or the more recent revolutionary one? Both would leave us, all South Africans with mud and blood on our faces. Smart thinking there, Advocate Ngcukaitobi.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    It’s an interesting proposition, because it is a neither-fish-nor-fowl system that is proposed. Not capitalist, and not communist, but rather a return to the pre-colony heyday of tribalism. The jackpot question is – who will give land to whom? One thing – no, two things are certain, maybe three: It will be a black African doling out land; no-one other than black South Africans will receive land; and three, the economy will immediately implode. I understand the man’s grievous motivation, but his idea is as much a dream as the White Homeland dream, and most probably based on revenge. The reality is, this government must get off its arse and start doing what it was always supposed to do – create opportunity for the masses in order to eradicate inequality. Not enrich themselves at the cost of the masses.

  • anton kleinschmidt says:

    In the early 1990s South Africa dodged a bullet. This nonsense seeks to reload the gun

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Idealistic. But not well thought out. Your desires require deeper insight into the realities of the current global economic regime (taxes, labour, institution, global market) , it requires a broader peek into history to give adequate context, and it requires future scenario extrapolations to imagine outcomes, taking into account the newly emerging global wconomic regime.

    We all want a better world for all, but unfortunately we have a government that wants quick fixes and appears to fail the real foundations of proper upliftment in the form of education and allocating the budget to housing and redevelopment. It seems that its just good at stealing from the poor. So start there.

  • Ian McGill says:

    No private ownership? yet “Blacks” don’t have enough land? So who will “own” what? Unfortunately this loss of land rights is part and parcel of industrialisation . This happened in Europe in the 17th to 19th Century. As the population increases (thanks to amongst others, western medicines) the land is unable to feed peasant agriculture . Thus land is consolidated into more larger , productive parcels using machinery and the landless seek employment in towns and cities. Adapt or die, or back to abject poverty.

  • jimpowell says:

    The simplest way to give property rights to blacks is to give ownership of government owned houses and land to the current residents. Also give ownership of the SOEs to the employees

  • Johan Buys says:

    Mr Pikoli :

    The commercial farms are what feeds our nation and drives exports that earn foreign currency! Communal or state owned farms will be catastrophic. I doubt any current farmers took ‘black’ land or were given that land. They bought it and improved it. Be careful what you wish for : if you want that land back the farmers will oblige and return it as it was 300 years ago. No crops, no herds, no buildings, cellars, pumps, boreholes, irrigation, fences. You are heading for a scorched earth outcome on your path.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    we see though our Affordable Housing publication title deeds being provided, homes being built and this in spite of a long road to get to this point thanks to a myriad of contradictory laws and incompetent public servants.! sure it is not mass housing but it is working albeit slowly. I question Advocates statement which refers to only 2% of land available for homes. that is wrong and reference to CAHF’s excellent work will show this to be higher. SA has the space, we just don’t have a government willing to open this essential market of home ownership for reasons only known to themselves!

  • Buster Sefor Sefor says:

    This man as a judge should impartially study all sides of the question and propose a solution that would benefit all South Africans. Currently there are large tracts of tribal lands with tenants beholden to the wishes of the chief. If anything is open to corruption it is this ‘traditional’ way of doing things. One only has to look at the massive land scandal involving our Vice President. The judge should also cast his vision further into the world to see that a key to the high standard of living in the most successful nations is powerfully linked to private land and property ownership.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Naive in the extreme. Like it or n to wee live in a world economy and property rights are fundamental to a modern economy. You need only look to Zimbabwe to see what happens. Read the research Advocate that shows that today land is not what the poor want. It is jobs and housing. The world has moved on and South Africa needs none of this myopic thinking.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    Go to the Eastern Cape, where much is owned by communities and poverty is rife. In fact, show me any community owned area in South Africa where there’s any sign of progress. Just plain opportunistic stupidity.

  • David Bristow says:

    So, would Advocate Ngcukaitobi wants us to return a rosy, romantic feudal state where lords (chiefs) control everything, labour, taxes, war, all that stuff … like they do in about a quarter of the country already, the poorest, most backward and neglected parts?

  • Peter Underwood says:

    The problem has remained worldwide for centuries. In Britain it goes back to 1066 when the Normans invaded and took all the land from the Anglo Saxons (much of which was held in common). The process has always been ‘might is right’ and empires have always taken the land as victors.

    God gave everyone the right to freely use land. When governments became corporations after the feudal system evolved into the financial feudal system of today, constitutions encompassed the concept of ‘private property’ which only benefits the banksters in the end.

    The fraud that individuals ‘own’ their land is cleverly obscured by fictitious legalese. This is a complex subject but is very well explained by Michael Tellinger in his book, UBUNTU. I have written about all this and the vision of a new economy which might arise out of the chaos of the present one.

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    The terrible irony is that people who seek to redress the inequities of the past keep on promoting “remedies” that will only make everything far worse for everyone.

    Socialism and communism have been tried and they have failed in every instance.

  • antonspace15 says:

    Current land ownership continues to reflect unjustly protected interests , in spite of political changes which were rightly expected to undo to some degree the depradations of past racial privilege, which enabled the enrichment of a small percentage at the expense and exclusion of the majority. To now suggest that tampering with possession structures thus established would have disastrous consequences is like saying that the incursions into civil society of organised crime must be accepted because their extraction would cause too much discomfort. An allied attempt to fence the existing economy off from dissenting political influence as if it were a seperate domain subject to known laws that made it as efficient at prediction as Newtonian physics should be recognised as sinister rubbish by everyone since 2008, at least. From a purely moral point of view, government and its wealthy backers continues to fail to adress the most pressing needs of a population that still struggles in the long shadow of its racist , colonialist and capitalist past.The chains of white supremacist privilege continue to rattle in the undertones of bullying ” too big to fail” forms of innuendo and cant, and the patronising repetition of broken old cliches like ” teach your victim to fish, …..and boot him into the labor market to compete for a low paid job in the fleet you inherited.”

    We are lucky our people are so fundamentally good natured, and should feel ashamed to so take advantage of that fact that our employment and wealth distribution figures are as bad as they are. The land issue should not be treated as if the fate of the world were at stake ,and not merely the projected profits of a few already over wealthy individuals wanting a stable environment in which to revel in unproductive financial speculation. I am sure we have economists, lawyers and other specialists who could quickly herald in a new dispensation of land ownership, so we need not fear the dire consequences threatened by the praise singers of the local oligarchs.

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